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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Heated sidewalks: The answer to Ottawa’s snowy urban landscape?


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Ottawa has been hard hit by some extreme winter weather this year. The displaced snow has been piling up on curbs and front yards, and the issue of what to do with it, and where to put it, has become an important and immediate issue for city officials, and citizens alike.

CBC Ottawa recently reported that the City of Ottawa was over budget on their snow removal budget by $24.4 million in 2013, with the snow storm from December 21 – 23, 2013 cost the City $11.7 million alone. For now, this overage will not cost Ottawa tax payers, however, with the recent threat of yet another severe storm overtaking the city, it begs the question of whether there is another way to tackle our city’s method for snow clearance and de-icing.

Countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Iceland appear to have figured it out. For the past ten years the city of Reykjavik has been installing heated sidewalks and streets in the downtown core, and this initiative has lead to lower snow removal costs, less fall related injuries, and accidents due to weather conditions. It has even brought more residents and visitors outside to enjoy the winter without the hassle and mess associated with snow covered sidewalks and roads in the urban core. And while Iceland has been able to accomplish this because of their unique accessibility to ample geothermal energy, experts believe that Canadian cities could learn from this Nordic urban design initiative and be able to apply it to our downtown areas as well.

The City of Saskatoon is already keen to start the design process. According to Saskatoon City officials, heated sidewalks and roads could be incorporated into new, as well as existing infrastructure, and located in “strategic locations”. In the City of Ottawa, these “strategic locations” could include the Byward Market, Sparks Street and possibly even the Glebe. Similar to the City of Saskatoon’s vision, Ottawa could in turn begin to craft their own winter urban design goals.

So what do you think? Could we save money and resolve the issue of snow and ice removal right at the source, rather than trucking or salting it away? How would this affect our storm water systems and energy use? Would you consider Ottawa to be a much more pedestrian-friendly and walkable city if winter sidewalks were heated?

Story by: Brynne Campbell

Image by: CBC News Saskatoon 



  1. As long as there is a melted path to the drains. I can handle the packed snow and ice – it’s the slush and puddles that are a pain.

  2. Not only does Iceland have lots of geothermal energy, Rejkavik is a lot warmer in winter than Ottawa or Saskatoon or even Toronto. Wikipedia says that the record low in Rejkavik for January is -24.5, and the average low is -2.4. The Nordic countries, despite being so far north, are also generally much warmer in winter than southern Canada.

    How much energy would we need to melt snow on the sidewalks this winter, when Toronto has routinely been below -10ºC as a high, with a brisk wind blowing?

    When they have heated sidewalks in Moscow or Minneapolis, then we would have better examples to study for Canadian cities.

  3. Great idea, I thought so when I first saw it being implemented in the Netherlands.

    I would like to actually crunch the numbers on an Ottawa scenario too.

    However, you mention the current snow clearing budget issue.. how much of that $24.4Mil over budget is from sidewalks?

    Is it not from the fact that we have such a massive sprawl and network of roads to maintain?

    There are parts of the Rideau canal access in the downtown core that have frigging CHAINS blocking their access because the city can’t spend the money to shovel a couple of steps (ie somerset bridge, pretoria bridge). Students walking to school or tourists who’ve come from around the world to visit the canal have to do detours and walk around out of the way to get where they’re going, and it costs maybe 15 minutes of labour per snowfall to clear this?

    Point being, I don’t think these budget problems are due to sidewalks (I wish it were..).

    The problem is that its perfectly OK to widen highways at millions of $$/lane km.. then spend even more millions to clear these lanes and roads in the winter.

    I’d say step 1 for city of Ottawa is to get your priorities in order. Perhaps go on a road diet, get people out of their cars. Perhaps when people actually walk places, there would be enough public concern to implement a solution like this.

  4. As mentioned above, this article fails to refer to the abundance of geothermal energy being used to heat the sidewalks in Iceland, as well as much warmer winters. It also takes liberties with selecting entire neighbourhoods as “strategic locations” to implement these heated sidewalks, while the “strategic locations” described by the Saskatoon project involve small areas such as bus stops and the sidewalk in front of their city hall. This project would be outrageously expensive in Ottawa.